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19 December 2012

Knows how to forget!

Knows how to forget!
But could It teach it?
Easiest of Arts, they say
When one learn how

Dull Hearts have died
In the Acquisition
Sacrifice for Science
Is common, though, now—

I—went to School
But was not wiser
Globe did not teach it
Nor Logarithm Show

"How to forget"!
Say some Philosopher!
Ah, to be erudite
Enough to know!

Is it in a Book?
So, I could buy it—
Is it like a Planet?
Telescopes would know—

If it be invention
It must have a Patent—
Rabbi of the Wise Book
Don't you know?
                                F391 (1862)  433 

It's easy to remember but oh so hard to forget. While that may not be true for classroom lessons, it is, sadly, mostly true for emotional knowledge. Dickinson here explores how she might learn the art of forgetting, but comes up empty.
          The first stanza has an "It" that seemingly does know how to forget. Perhaps "It" is a school of thought or a philosopher's teaching. Dickinson's tone is very skeptical. She scoffs at the idea. Forgetting might be the "Easiest of the Arts," as the ubiquitous "they" say, but those depressed and "Dull" with unhappiness "have died / In the Acquisition" of the knowledge. Oh well, that's just the cost of a scientific experiment. Ouch!
          School didn't teach such practical subjects. The poet didn't learn the art of forgetting in geography or math. But "some Philosopher" is "erudite / Enough to know!" Dickinson wishes she were equally learned. If only he'd put his ideas in a book. She continues her scoffing: "Is it like a Planet?" Is it an invention? If so, "It must have a Patent."
          At the end she pleads with Jesus, the Rabbi of the New Testament. "Don't you know?" This isn't the first time she has tossed a little barb at the deity for not being helpful. I'm sure it won't be the last. In the meantime, the poet will have to discover on her own how one forgets. Hopefully, she won't become another sacrifice for science.


  1. Hi Susan,

    I'm so glad to find your commentary. What a great idea! Dickinson has always been a favorite of mine, but I've recently returned to her, my interest having been spurred by the new daguerreotype. I've just finished Habegger's "My Wars Are Laid Away in Books," and am now reading Helen Vendler's "Dickinson." I'll look forward to making this a regular stop.

    NYC area

  2. I love Vendler's book. Unfortunately it is in storage -- waiting after our move from New Zealand until we have a house to have things delivered to. I was always so happy when a poem I was thinking about was in her book. Vendler's a lightbulb!
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
    How did you like Habegger's book?

  3. I thought Habegger's book was quite good, though, perhaps, not definitive. I agree with you about Vendler! I'm really enjoying it.


  4. I read this is ED's wry praise of the mind's self-sufficient organicity, which Knows. We need not consult books or even the Rabbi. We need only to consult ourselves, and even we are not masters of It.